This second collection in the Magpie Tales series contains 50 drabbles, chosen from the 220 stories Murton wrote between November 2012 and March 2014. As well as further tales of the eponymous trickster (including a five-part epic battle with the Queen of Elphame), the collection ranges across both genres and styles, united only by Murton’s sardonic yet compassionate perspective on reality.
While Murton claims in the introduction that the drabble gives the author more freedom to display ideas than longer forms, he is perhaps being slightly tongue in cheek. The collection does contain stories that will appeal more than others to any particular reader, but none that are technically forced or slack. While each drabble is short, these are all bonsai ideas not half-thoughts.
As with the first collection, a significant minority of stories involve Magpie: the mostly loveable trickster who always comes out on top in the end. Tragically addicted to ‘shinies’ he is both a comical fool and a dark mirror of the dangers of consumerism. It is a testament to Murton’s skill that he can be read either way without straining the necessarily thin fabric of words.
In addition to the five linked drabbles of the Rooking of Magpie cycle, Murton has included more experimental work than the first collection, including Only Sleeping, his self-aware non-parody of the unfeasible predatory swarm trope, and Blowing a Kiss 1-3, three very different stories with the same opening action.
It would be easy to make a trite joke about this collection’s greatest flaw being the time lost to reading just one more before you stop, and that is an issue. But the greatest issue might actually be the same risk of overdose present in a large box of chocolates; each drabble is interesting and nuanced, but read in large bursts begin to fight in the memory, losing their crispness. So this collection requires an amount of willpower.
I signed up to Murton’s mailing list when it began, so was re-reading these stories. Whether drawn from the early days of the list, or earlier this year, each of the stories displayed a pleasing freshness on my return. I recommend the collection both as an example of skilled writing and for pure entertainment.
I have known the author socially for many years, and received a free copy of this collection in exchange for a fair review.